Does Multitasking Really Make You More Efficient?

In a word, no. Counterintuitive as it may seem, multitasking actually impedes efficiency. Let’s see why.

Given our hectic schedules, all too often it seems multitasking is the only way to get the most out of a day. Everyone’s doing it, but the truth is, we’re not doing ourselves any favours. Here are eight reasons why you should give up the habit.

1. You’re lying to yourself

Multitasking is the myth that we can focus on more than one thing at a time, without compromising on the quality of the final output (for each task.) We lie to ourselves that we can give all of ourselves, no matter how many tasks we’re tied up with. The number of road accidents involving a driver on a cell phone, either taking or texting, is a sobering statistic – at least 23 percent of car accidents every year are due to the usage of cell phones while driving.

Truth is, every time we try to multitask, we give a little less of ourselves to each task. On the road, it can spell the difference between disaster and safe arrival. In the office or in everyday life, multitasking can lower your odds of success and lessen job satisfaction and enjoyment of your personal life.

2. You’re losing IQ points

Excessive use of technology can reduce workers’ intelligence. That’s not a claim, it’s a proven fact. As the force driving our ‘multitasker’ lifestyles, overreliance on technology can impede mental acuity and productivity.

Technology gives us 24/7 access to business correspondence and communication such as emails, faxes, text messages and voicemails. This anytime, anywhere access only propagates the myth that we can tend to work even when we’re not working. In fact, people who are constantly distracted by incoming mail and calls may lose up to 10 IQ points when tending to the task at hand. That’s the same effect as not sleeping all night and trying to work the next day.

3. It’s impossible

Multitasking is genuinely impossible. You might think that you’re attending to two tasks at the same time, but you’re simply switching between them so fast that you don’t even realise. Back and forth and back and forth, until you exhaust yourself. That switching isn’t really helping your productivity or your stress levels.

What it boils down to is, you lose more time than you save. Think about it – when you multitask, you interrupt yourself over and over again. You drop something you’re doing and pick up something else. And each time you force your brain to switch gears. And each time you have to ‘unload’ information for the first task and ‘reload’ for the second. Ultimately, you end up taking up more time that you would have if you worked on the tasks separately.

Stop trying to do the impossible. You’re a finite human and there’s no shame acknowledging that!

4. It disengages you from reality

Rather than complement and enrich our life, portable devices have taken it over. We are never fully present in the here and now because we’re always keeping tabs in our mind of all the things going on in the ‘outside world.’ Like an incoming text message. Or a funny share on Facebook. Or a Twitter update. Or a new email. Is it really so important for us to be constantly updated?

In many ways, your body is still in the stone-age, and it expects to live in the here and now. Re-engage with reality by switching off your phone and email alerts when you are busy with something or someone else and reality will reward you by seeming brighter, richer and more satisfying again.

We can’t escape the constant beeps, flashes, notifications and alerts from our portable devices. But we can silence them for a little while every now and then.

5. It’s wearing you out

Your adrenal glands, working silently inside your body, produce the hormones that help you deal with stress. If the glands have to produce stress hormones constantly, they can become overtired and worn-out. Which is exactly what multitasking does – it elevates stress levels unnecessarily and wears you out.

Today, the average employee switches tasks every three minutes, and is interrupted five times in a ten-minute span! It you’re working full-time and the work environment isn’t in your control, at least make a change during your days off. Do your body a favour and start taking things one at a time.


6. Cognitive overload from multitasking makes you slow

Trying to do everything at once overloads your brain. You can’t think straight, you are more stressed than you need to be, and you start making bad decisions. Don’t pore over mountains of data for one task and then immediately move onto another highly-involved task with yet more information to wrap your head around.

If you’re expecting to hear back from someone, don’t let it distract you. Keep doing what you’re doing and eventually you’ll get the email or call. Thinking about it constantly isn’t going to make them contact you sooner!

7. You won’t lose anything

Stopping multitasking will not hamper your productivity. Since it’s impossible to do two things at once anyway, you may as well do them one after the other. Take a step back, finish the first assignment, no matter how long it takes, and move on to the next. Think of the benefits to your body and your mind. Make the decision to stop multitasking, and then stick to it.

8. Realise that chronic multitasking is a chemical addiction

That’s right, it’s an addiction. It feels like you can’t stop because, in a way, you can’t. Not until you well and truly break the habit and end the addiction. The main addictive substance is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has pronounced effects on the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When we have high levels of dopamine circulating in our system, we feel good.

Multitasking is an addiction because it’s associated with high levels of dopamine. The brain ‘enjoys’ the effects of dopamine, making it harder to stop. Now that you know, it’s time to accept the reality and make the decision to stop.

Tips to stop multitasking

One big resolution isn’t going to stop you from multitasking. You’ll have to be persistent. At first, you might be on a high from making the resolution. A life with no multitasking woes – it sounds so great. But before you know it, your old habits will try and kick back. You’ll need to fight the urge. There’s no formula to this and it won’t be easy, but you can do it!

Here are a few proven tactics that have worked for many people. Try replacing your multitasking habits with slow-paced habits instead. Take deep breaths for 5 minutes – time yourself and don’t let yourself lose focus. Train yourself to accept a slower pace of life and eventually you will find that that you’re getting more done than ever before. A more peaceful life is within your reach!

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